- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 16, 2000

LOS ANGELES Ecstatic might be too mild a word. "Kvell" comes closer. That's Yiddish for deep and satisfying joy.

For sure, no one in America will be happier than Jewish delegates when Connecticut Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman takes the podium tonight to accept the Democratic nomination for vice president. And not just because he's a "landsman," the Yiddish word for a co-religionist.

"He's going to help the ticket. He's going to help us win," enthused delegate Lewis Goldstein, a New York City preschool administrator. "He's just the best person for the job."

But every Jewish person on the Staples Center convention floor was also very conscious of what the Lieberman nomination says about the status of Jews in America.

"Every one of us as a Jew has a right to be proud," said the 83-year-old retired Sen. Howard Metzenbaum of Ohio. "This says we are equals among equals. He adds a lot to the ticket. Think about how much stronger the Republican ticket would be if George W. Bush had taken Colin Powell as his running mate."

California delegate Frank Ponder, a camera-store owner, sees the nomination as a sign of how far America has come. "I grew up in an era when Jews couldn't go to some colleges and couldn't work for some companies," he said. "My parents came here from Hitler's Germany in 1938 and they saw signs that said 'No Jews or dogs allowed.' There were places they couldn't live.

"I remember sneaking into the L.A. Sports Arena down the street from here when John Kennedy was nominated and that was a landmark, too." Mr. Kennedy was the first Catholic president.

"This thing shows that it's no longer nearly as important to people if you're Jewish or black or whatever we're looking at the character of the person more," Mr. Ponder said.

Wisconsin delegate Melinda Bensman, a Milwaukee elementary-school teacher wearing an NEA straw boater hat atop her curly red tresses, called the Lieberman nomination "a thrill," saying it makes her hope some of the anti-Semitism she has seen may be in the past.

"I've heard so much stupid stuff right in my own neighborhood about Jews taking over Hollywood and Jews being cheap that this just makes me feel elated," she said. "And the fact that the reaction has been 90 percent positive says a huge amount about this country. I'm loving it."

California delegate Rosalind Wyman, a former national party chairman, worries about that other 10 percent. "The Jewish people are so proud their chests are bursting," she said. "But I'm a little concerned about the hate that's coming out, especially on the Internet. I don't like young people to read stuff like that."

Former Commerce Secretary Mickey Kantor said the nomination makes him feel "proud as a Jew," but insisted he's more interested in what Mr. Lieberman can do for the ticket.

"This is about qualifications and what he speaks to," Mr. Kantor said. "He's not called the 'conscience of the Senate' for nothing. His nomination speaks to the nation's values and his potential ability to run the country. I already knew we'd moved beyond anti-Semitism in politics."

Added California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, "We Democrats created Medicare and Head Start and America changed because of the challenge of the John F. Kennedy nomination. Now we're posing a new challenge for this country and I think America is up to it."

Wisconsin delegate Elliott Levine, a public defender in LaCrosse, called the Lieberman selection "a breakthrough in a lot of ways. It takes away the question of whether a Jew can run on a national ticket.

"We already knew a Jew can run successfully in Wisconsin. We have two Jewish senators, Herb Kohl and Russell Feingold, and it's never been an issue. It says a lot about the Democrats, though, as the party that always breaks barriers."

Seated nearby in the Minnesota delegation, former Vice President Walter Mondale observed that things are similar in his home state. "I don't think most people in Minnesota know or care that our current senator, Paul Wellstone, is Jewish. It's been a long time since anything like that mattered in our state politics."

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